Friday, June 18, 2010

You're Grounded!

There comes a moment when you’re sitting on the ground and you’re attacked, or you’ve been standing and slipped, or you’ve been struck and fell. Now what to you do?

In the Isshinryu of my instructor, Tom Lewis, on your first night you get down on the ground and begin a fascinating study, defensive kicking from the ground.

You’re first down on your back, holding your upper body and your head off the floor, with both arms at your sides, bent from the elbows, holding you up. The lower leg is curled back to protect your groin, the other leg is curled back, above the lower leg, set to deliver a front heel thrust kick at your attacker.

You’re down on you side, holding your upper body and your head off the floor with the arm of that side bent at the elbow, holding you up, and the other arm crossing your body so the hand is on the floor. The lower leg is curled back to protect your groin and the top leg is curled back in set to deliver a side thrust kick with the blade or the heel of the foot.

In either case your attacker recognizes you’re ready to kick them if they close in, so the quickly dodge to the side to get down at you, but because of your positioning you pivot your body on your hips to keep your feet between you and the attacker.

Note the common elements:

1. First your lower leg is curled back to protect your groin. If the lower leg is left out straight it can be a ready target to stomp causing pain to incapacitate your ability to respond.

2. Your kick is a thrust kick not a snap kick. You know where your attacker is at, they have to reach out and down to get at you, limiting their mobility at the same time making a strong target to strike into.

3. Your foot is striking into the torso with the heel of the thrust kick, your upper foot bent away from the strike to make the strongest strike possible. If you’re kicking into their leg with your side kick, you then are using the blade of your foot (and actually the rear of the foot blade is best) to strike across their leg for the best chance to get a piece of their leg to work on.

4. Holding your upper body off the floor promotes your ability to remain mobile so you can shift if your attacker moves maintaining your strongest defensive position.

Defensive Grounding

As a beginner just another set of kicking drills, how to ground is not part of the training at that level, but if in practice one slips and is on the ground if they don’t immediately cover up and assume the correct position, it is pointed out to the student.

In fact how you ground yourself is another study that comes later in our training. I use a set of basic break fall training from the low crouch position, front break, side break and back break falls, to learn the basic ending position, to learn to tuck in your chin to keep your head from bouncing, correct ending hand and arm positioning. Those drills also start one understanding meeting the ground is not the ending. After those drills we can then move into assuming our ground kicking positions.

In the course of our standard Green Belt training we use a set of Sutrisno Aikido Drills and that is where our real meeting the ground as ‘uke’ training begins. Of course those are complete techniques and if properly executed you’re controlled and locked on the ground so you can’t respond if they’re being executed correctly, but the grounding without fear as a secondary benefit remains.

From there as the student advances more and more kata technique studies move to completion grounding the opponent and in time harder and faster. Your ability to meet the ground increases enhancing your ability to prepare to shift into the grounded kicking positions.

Among them was a application from Mr. Lewis using the lower leg to sneak behind an attackers leg and the upper side kick to trip them down with a lower pull/upper push motion.

Offensive Grounding

When I was a brown belt I tried to side kick Charles Murray, my second instructor. Before I was underway Charles was on the ground and a dropping side kick was rising into my groin. After showing me how it was done and practicing it a bit, the following week I was in my last months of a contract to study Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan and they specialized in jumping in with flying side kicks. I had the opportunity and it worked extremely well. It didn’t hurt (me) that I knew what was coming first.

Other studies with Tristan Sutsisno in Silat Tjimande offered several other grounding approaches such as dropping to the ground as you catch a striking arm, pulling them over into the grounded side kick and then turning the other way to conclude with a grounded back kick. Side kicking from the floor then rolling over to scissor trap their leg and follow with a concluding sidekick takedown. Concluding a take down with a roll over roundhouse kick to the attackers head. (This was also a technique from Ernest Rothrock’s kung fu instruction).

Yet another Silat Tjimande technique was to turn away from an attacker dropping one knee to the ground with both hands hitting the ground at the same time (for a three point touchdown) turning your head to look back and a driving back kick off of the floor. An offensive technique also a defensive counter to a stomp into your knee, dropping to the floor faster than their kick and the counter back kick. BTW once visiting a Korean school in Pasadena, they were using the same grounding technique to then practice spinning on the knee delivering ground wheel kicks.

I certainly am not a Silat adept, but between the Isshinryu basics and the Sutrisno studies most of the basic ways to ground and initially kick are covered. The Silat stylist, from what I’ve observed has an extremely diverse set of grounded kicking studies.


It should be no surprise that the Chinese reference work found on Okinawa, the Bubishi, shows grounded kicking techniques. Permit me to reference one by example from my own translation of Roland Habsetzer’s work “Bubishi. À la source des Karaté-Do”.

II. The Principal Teachings Of The Bubush Commentary of the 48 Figures of Close Combat of the Bubishi

If an assailant tries to grab you with two hands, you let go and go to the ground while capturing his foot to make him fall (24 : right). Commentary page 168.

Photograph notes : page 71

Photo 41: If this technique is applied by the side, uke can go up to attack the two legs of Tori to bring (him) to fall from his legs scissor: Kani-basami in Judo (‘pinch of the crayfish [crab]’).


Figure 9 The illustrated drawing suggests the counterattack.

This form is very near that of [figure] 3, but Uke’s body is more turned, hands in support on the front. It is then that one of drawing 8, already represented as possible evolution of the figure 3. Ohtsuka Sensei thinks that it is possible here to be introducing a new variant technique: a lock to the ankle accompanied by a push of the heel under the knee Tori (24), who then is obliged to drop to the rear to escape from the painful grip [of the lock].

Advanced Studies

It’s of no small surprise that there are systems that go much further than this article describes. Indonesian Siliat is one area of study to consider. Yet another is”Fukien Ground Boxing (Nan Shaolin Leg techniques)” written by Cai Chu-Xian. An incredible work explaining the techniques you can find on YouTube where they’re executed too fast for instruction purposes. Of course that book was published in 1993, costs a small fortune today, and while worth it, isn’t available except from individuals like me who will not part with my copy. But that’s just one system,

Note this is very close to the Sutrisno Silat technique I described earlier.

I had Ernest Rothrock review ‘Fukien Ground Boxing’ a number of years ago and his response there was nothing in the Fukien Dog Boxing being shown that wasn’t equally in his Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai (Northern Eagle Claw) and in many other Chinese systems.

Almost all of those techniques begin from the grounding foundations I’ve discussed.

For example if you get yourself into the basic ground side kick posture and your opponent is really on you, advanced variations readily work from that position, the rest is simply minor skill adjustment and practice.

Other techniques really require superior ability to get to the ground and work through and around an attacker at the same time. Those studies require much more advanced training than I’ve discussed, but they still spring from the same technique foundations.


In my travels I’ve always been amazed how many karate schools didn’t begin their students with ground kicking where it’s such a valuable survival skill to use. I hope my presentation suggests some of the potential in this study.

The study can be simple or very, very complex. I would suggest most would be best served by solid basic study and intermediate execution potential.


For most of the illustrations I’ve used photo’s found via Google Image Search to illustrate the wide range of others using these techniques.

My choice of my own translation from the Bubishi is not to suggest I am more worthy than the other translators of who I am in great respect (and reference them all in earlier articles on the Bubishi in my log), but enjoy letting my own efforts shine a bit. As I don’t sell my efforts, please buy their books for your reference, each of which is of great value.


Fukien Ground Boxing - Nan Shaolin Lege Techniques by Cai Chu-Xian

· A brief selection from the book can be found on Google Books

Bubishi Resources

Bubishi – The Classical Manual of Combat – translated by McCarthy Patrick
Bubishi – Martial Art Spirit – Translated by Penland Kenneth
Funakoshi Gichin-

Karate Jutsu – translated by Teramoto John
Karate-do Koyan – translated by Ohshima Tsutomu Hokama Tetsuhiro

Timeline of Karate History – translated by Swift Joseph
Motobu Chokoi Karate My Art – translated by McCarthy Patrick and McCarthy Yuriko
Collection of Sayings by Motobu Chokoi – translated by Swift Joseph
Shotokan Karte A Precise History by Harry Cook
Kyan’s ideas on training and actual fighting from Miki Nisaburo’s “Kempo Gaisetsu”